Muscat: The Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Kazakhstan may be quite far apart and quite different, but the potential for increased trade, tourism and cultural relations is strong, according to Yerzhan Mukash, the Kazakhstan ambassador.Speaking to Times of Oman ahead of the country’s upcoming National Day celebrations, which the Embassy of Kazakhstan is planning for December 1, Mukash said ties between the two countries have been slowly growing since they established diplomatic relations in 1992, following Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union.
“Since the first day of independence Kazakhstan has put great importance on the Arab World. Oman was among the first Arab countries which established diplomatic, economic and commercial ties. As ambassador I would like to strengthen the relations and bring them to a new level,” Mukash said.
Prior to 1992, when Kazakhstan was a member of the Soviet Union, ties with Oman were cut. Since then the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been in power since 1989, has paid two visits to Oman, in 1997 and 2008. The Kazakh embassy, which opened in 2010, is also the only Central Asian embassy in Oman.
Now Mukash has invited Yusuf bin Alawi, Omani Minister Responsible of Foreign Affairs, to visit to Kazakhstan next year. There are a number of areas that can be explored bilaterally, such as the oil and gas sector, mining, education and tourism. “I hope this visit gives new vision to our bilateral relations,” he said.
The embassy recently held a conference about investment opportunities, hoping to attract more Omani business people. Several Omani businesses already have established offices in Kazakhstan, including Oman Oil, which is working in the oil fields in the western region of the country, and MB Holding Company LLC, which has mining interests in eastern Kazakhstan.
Mukash said Oman and Kazakhstan each have products the other needs, suggesting his country could be a source of wheat and meat, while Oman could export fish, seafood and citrus fruits to his homeland.
“Now we are getting some offers from other Omani companies to establish ties with Kazakhstan,” he said.
Culturally, Kazakhstan has had a strong presence at the Muscat Festivals, participating in the International Festival of Crafts each year, and two Kazakh ensembles performed at the Royal Opera House Muscat in February 2013.
There are also a number of Kazakhs studying in Oman at the International Maritime College Oman in Sohar and at the Sultan Qaboos College for Teaching Arabic Language to Non-Native Speakers, and some Omani students studying at the Kazakh National Medical University.
“In Kazakhstan some people learn Arabic because (the majority of) people in Kazakhstan are Muslims, so there were historical relations with the Arab world. Before the Soviet Union we used the Arabic alphabet,” Mukash noted.
Kazakhstan is hoping to attract more tourists, including Omanis, with a number of high-profile events. It will host Expo 2017, with the theme ‘Future Energy.’ It will also hold the 2017 Winter Universiade sports competition, and its former capital, Almaty, is in the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Mukash added that Omanis may find Kazakhstan very interesting because of its rich Islamic culture, such as being the birthplace of Islamic philosopher and scientist Al Farabi.
“We need to re-establish our historical ties because for a long time Kazakhstan and other Turkic nations were in the Soviet Union and our relations with the Islamic world were cut,” he commented.
While relations between the countries are good, Mukash said there are ways to improve them, such as easing the visa restrictions. Kazakhstan recently added Oman to the list of 48 countries whose citizens can apply for a tourist or business visa without requiring a formal invitation.
Mukash said he hoped Oman would soon reciprocate, making it easier for Kazakhs to come to the Sultanate.